Ultra-successful singer and performer Rihanna, born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, has filed a federal complaint against her father Ronald Fenty and others. The Entertainment Law case is grounded in intellectual property, with claims that include invasion of privacy, false designation of origin and false advertising.
Rihanna’s biggest gripe with her father is that he has created a company called Fenty Entertainment (also named as a defendant in the lawsuit that Rihanna has initiated). While her father shares the same Fenty last name as Rihanna, the famous singer says that her father and his business partner are using the name to trick others into believing that she is part of the company when she actually has no involvement.
Her biggest stated concern is that her father and his business partner are outright leading potential investors into believing she is associated with Fenty Entertainment.
“Mr. Fenty and Mr. Perkins have used these lies in a fraudulent effort to solicit millions of dollars from unsuspecting third parties in exchange for the false promise that they were authorized to act on Rihanna’s behalf, and/or that Rihanna would perform at various locations throughout the world,” states a section of the Complaint. “Simply put, Mr. Fenty, Mr. Perkins and the Company are not presently, nor have they ever been, authorized to exploit Rihanna’s name, her intellectual property or the goodwill associated with her well-known ‘Fenty’ brand, or to solicit any business on her behalf.”
For instance, Rihanna complains that Fenty Entertainment tried to induce a company into paying it $15.4 million in exchange for Rihanna performing in multiple shows. Rihanna says that the company was not authorized to negotiate such deals on her behalf.
If Rihanna’s claims are true, then it should shift the likelihood of success on the merits to her side of the dispute. Absent the alleged claims made by her father and her business partner, it would present a much more interesting issue as to who has the rights to commercialize a last name. While Rihanna has built successful businesses around her “Fenty” last name, should that preclude her father, who literally gave her the last name, from using it as well in connection with commercial endeavors?
A pending trademark application may give some insight into the matter. On August 15, 2018, Rihanna’s father filed a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the mark “Fenty” for use in connection with resort hotel services. On December 6, 2018, the examining attorney assigned to the application found no conflicting marks that would bar registration under Trademark Act Section 2(d) despite existing Fendy-related registered marks, but did preliminarily refuse registration because “Fenty” is primarily merely a surname.
The pending litigation may never get to the question as to whom within a family has exclusive rights to use a surname in commerce (if anyone); however, that would be a very interesting issue to follow.